Lights, Camera… Alhambra

Alhambra Cinema

Heritage cinemas are enjoying a revival in the UK at the minute. 

Hundith Hill

They provide something the giant complexes can’t offer.  In a world of screens and machines, people still enjoy the simple pleasure of old fashioned experiences and personal service.

“A night at the Alhambra in Keswick is not a mock retro experience.” said manager Carol Rennie.  “It’s the real deal, it’s quaint and has all its original features.”

Built in 1913, it’s been in continuous operation for over 100 years.  It was around for the birth of the film industry and has seen many changes over its lifetime.

Imagine all the families that have laughed or cried within its walls, how many children have experienced the magic of their first movie under its roof or how many first dates have turned into marriages and families themselves. The Alhambra has played a role in Keswick for generations.

The grand opening was on January 22nd in 1914 with ‘Quo Vadis’.  Set during the reign of the emperor Nero it was one of the first blockbusters of cinema.  It was an inauspicious start, a technical glitch meant the first screening was cancelled and the movie shown the next night when a replacement part was delivered by train.

The early films were all silent and accompanied by a piano.  The first ‘talkie’ took place in 1930 when the Alhambra screened ‘The Jazz Singer’, which featured Al Jonson.  However, a lack of sound equipment meant the movie was voiced by Fred Bucknall, who was a popular Yorkshire Baritone.

Keswick was busy during WW2, it was far away from the bombs that plagued the rest of the country and it provided a safe haven.  The Alhambra was a lifeline to the outside world, screening newsreels and public information films.

In 2012 it was taken over by Tom Rennie and his wife Sylvia.  A twist of fate had brought the family from Botswana many years earlier.  Their daughter, Carol, boarded at Keswick school in the late eighties but by the time she had moved on, the Rennies had fallen in love with the place.  They moved to Keswick in 1991 and Tom quickly took the position as manager of the Alhambra.

“Dad managed the place for 28 years,” explained his daughter Carol.  “In 2012 the guy who ran the leasehold had to shut the cinema down because it wasn’t making any money.  Dad was going to lose his job as well as the other staff so he decided to take the lease on, aged 73!”

In 2014 the Alhambra marked it’s centenary with a specially commissioned film “Lights, Camera…. Alhambra!”  There were also viewings of classic films from each of the decades the cinema had operated.

“Dad kept dropping a lot of hints to me and my husband Alan about working here,” explained Carol.  “We finally listened and bought the cinema together with mum and dad in 2016.  It’s a family business now.

The Alhambra has been important to my family for nearly 30 years.  It’s special and that’s why we are slowly restoring all the original features.  We run on a shoestring budget and any money goes to the upkeep of the cinema.  Recently we’ve had work done on the roof, fixed a lot of plasterwork and worked on the balconies.  There are still many things that need sprucing up.”

A crowdfunding page has been launched to help restore the glory at the Keswick Alhambra.  You can make a simple donation or choose one of the various ‘purchase plus donations’ on offer. Choose from tickets, friends of the Alhambra discount cards, inscriptions, special tours or private screenings.

According to Carol, some things change while others remain the same: “It’s important the Alhambra retains its charm and for people to experience that old style service.  We have no plans to change that at all.”

The Alhambra has a rich and varied history and with a family running it that love it and understand the cinema, it’s future looks assured.

For screening times visit www.keswickalhambra.co.uk or donate to help the crowdfunding campaign at www.crowdfunder.co.uk/keswick-alhambra-restore-the-glory

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